ADELAIDE, South Australia--()--Genesee & Wyoming Australia (GWA) welcomed today’s release of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) report on the December 2011 freight train derailment at the Edith River bridge in the Northern Territory, which concluded that the accident was caused by a freak weather event and that the ATSB is satisfied with the risk-management actions being implemented by GWA.
“While we appreciate that many people were affected by the accident, we are pleased that the report acknowledges the accident was clearly one created by a severe weather event and Genesee & Wyoming was not found to be at fault for the bridge’s collapse”
The report relates to an extraordinary weather incident when isolated, torrential rains after Cyclone Grant increased the river’s depth from less than four meters when a GWA train crossed the bridge on 26 December to more than 11 meters when the next GWA train rounded the sweeping left-hand-curve approach seven hours later and reached the submerged bridge, causing it to partially collapse and derail the train as it attempted to stop.
The flood’s magnitude vastly exceeded the one-in-100-year event that the bridge was designed to withstand, and the ATSB report found that “in these circumstances it is not unreasonable to expect partial failure of the bridge structure or approaches.”
Operating under its Cyclone Response Plan, GWA had held back the two freight trains since 23-24 December, monitored Bureau of Meteorology weather alerts and, after the cyclone’s downgrade to a tropical low, inspected the rail line for flood damage prior to releasing the two trains. (See attached timeline.) The ATSB report found that “there was no record of any previous flood event, since the construction of the Edith River Rail Bridge, at or near the site that would have heightened the alertness of GWA to the risk of a wash-away as occurred on 27 December 2011.”
The ATSB was also satisfied with GWA’s actions addressing the derailment, which focus on increasing visibility to weather events before they happen and increasing the availability of data used in evaluating and responding to weather events.
“While we appreciate that many people were affected by the accident, we are pleased that the report acknowledges the accident was clearly one created by a severe weather event and Genesee & Wyoming was not found to be at fault for the bridge’s collapse,” GWA Managing Director Bert Easthope said.
“GWA has a world-class safety record. The company was already acting on certain recommendations in the report, including installing water-level-detection units on the six major bridges north of Katherine, NT, to alert train control and crews when water levels present a danger. This new technology has recently been successfully implemented in the Pilbara region.”
GWA is also establishing closer relationships with a range of government agencies regarding the monitoring and reporting of extreme weather events and potential flooding and will be receiving alerts from national and state weather- and water-level-monitoring services.
These new measures will be in place prior to the onset of the 2012/13 cyclone season.
“The report highlights one indisputable issue; any piece of infrastructure as extensive as the Adelaide to Darwin rail line cannot be risk-free. It traverses the length of Australia and some of the most exposed land in the country. We should take pride from the fact that we manage one of the longest rail lines in the world with remarkably limited interruptions,” Mr. Easthope said.
The Edith River incident was the only derailment on the rail line in 2011, producing a rate of 0.48 derailments per million kilometers traveled. The 2011 rate for all Australian railroads was 0.81 derailments per million kilometers traveled. Separately, a June 2012 derailment of a GWA freight train near Muckaty, NT, was caused by wheel failure on a third-party-owned-and-maintained wagon.
Since acquiring the Tarcoola-Darwin rail line in December 2010, GWA has made significant investments to upgrade the track infrastructure, including more than $5 million in projects to install box culverts and earthworks at sites of previous flood events, to repair accumulated water damage on the McKinley River bridge in the NT, and to replace and tamp ballast. A further $6 million in similar projects are scheduled for this year.
“We will continue to deliver a world-class and reliable service on this critical infrastructure,” Mr. Easthope said. “We recognize our key economic and social role in Australia, playing a major part in assisting many natural resources projects along the corridor.”
GWA has continued to conduct monthly cleanups of the Edith River banks downstream of the rail bridge and is awaiting final evaluation of the cleanup by the NT Department of Natural Resources, Environment, The Arts and Sport (NRETAS). In August, GWA successfully replaced two girders on the Edith River bridge that received temporary repairs following the derailment. Replacing the girders removed restrictions on the speed and axle loading of trains crossing the bridge since the flood.
A wholly owned subsidiary of Genesee & Wyoming Inc., GWA operates nearly 5,000 km of track in South Australia and the Northern Territory and provides intrastate haulage of bulk commodities including grain, steel, gypsum and minerals as well as short-haul shunting and terminal operations. An accredited rail-service provider in six states (all but Tasmania), GWA has more than 400 employees, 90 locomotives and 950 active freight wagons. GWA operates between South Australia and the Port of Darwin over the 2,200 km Tarcoola to Darwin rail line, which links the Port of Darwin with the Australian interstate rail network in South Australia.